The first time he saw it happen, the order selector figured it was an oversight. He had always considered his long-time supervisor to be an upstanding corporate citizen—one who would never intentionally fail to charge a customer for products it received. But once he began paying close attention, he realized that it was happening on a regular basis with certain customers. The supervisor may not have fit his mental image of a thief, but nonetheless, he was clearly stealing from the company.
The selector was at a loss as to what to do. If he came forward, the company executives might not believe him. His supervisor might find out and make his life miserable. On the other hand, if the company's owners believed him, they might let slip who had tipped them off when they confronted the supervisor. What if the supervisor sought revenge?
After weighing his options, he decided that the safest approach was to remain silent. The theft continued and ended up costing this distributor nearly $60,000 before management realized it had a problem.
Silence isn't always golden
Unfortunately, this scenario is all too common. However much they dislike working alongside thieves, substance abusers and other unsavory types, employees often hesitate to come forward because they fear retaliation.
Their fears are not completely unfounded. There are hundreds of stories of employees receiving threats, having their cars damaged, and even being assaulted after informing their employer about co-worker misconduct.
However, companies can't afford to overlook employee misconduct, which can easily add up to losses and legal fees in the six-figure range. One distributor, for example, was sued for over $2 million after a dock employee, who later tested positive for cocaine, caused a serious injury to a coworker with a forklift. Prior to trial, statements were taken from an array of warehouse employees who testified that drugs were widely sold and used inside their DC. Fearful of the consequences of having the case adjudicated, the distributor agreed to a significant settlement with the injured employee.
But how do you encourage whistleblowers to come forward? For most managers, the answer is to set up some sort of hotline for anonymous tips. (If you're a publicly traded U.S. corporation, Sarbanes-Oxley requires that this type of program be in place.) Here are some pointers for setting up an effective hotline:
Hiring an outside service may sound like just another expense. But if you can persuade even one employee to come forward with information that could prevent an act of workplace violence, sabotage or theft, the program will have paid for itself many times over.